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Saturday, 18 July 2009

The Ammonite's Lament




Out of my oyster world when you took blade
to pop the sepulchre apart that held
and had held me for aeons - stone within
a stone, you might say - only to release
me then into this altered world to find
the chambers at the closed end of my spiral
ringing emptier than ever. Water
was my element, and so it was that
sailing it, I came to find my métier.
Perched at my spiral's open end, I rode
the waves and all that nature threw at me
like some intimidating figurehead
Beelzebub had carved. But I was King
among the species that the world bred then.

Now I, who have been flesh and blood like you,
am stone, more shell-like than my shell was then,
no longer buoyant - hence the hollow ring.
No use these cells, they're surplus to my needs.
There is no buoyancy for them to give.
Just beauty, I suppose, but what is that
to me? My soul does not respond to it -
nor did it ever, no not even then
before the great upheaval changed my form
to stone. What's that you say? I was not King?
That there were higher forms of life than !?
Not so, though lowly were my family
four hundred million years ago - just flecks
of plankton floating on a shallow sea.

Slow time allowed their growth, the cells they formed,
at first in-line behind, then hairpin-shaped
before they flowered into this, the form
I know as perfect, the plane spiral. Then
was I the predator, voracious and
as deadly to all fish and molluscs in
my path as are my modern cousins, squid
and such, to crabs and other well-built prey.
I do not overstate - but if I should,
did you not know that even stones may dream -
particularly one that once had life?
Out from that claustrophobic vein, re-
interred then in this fusty study's reek
of love and polish... this, I'll settle for.

The way that iron enters a man's soul
its pyrites forced their way into my shell,
pushed out its carbonates, its building blocks,
and thereby changed its nature, making it
less tender to decay. But that was just
the coup de grâce, preserving what had been
the thick-skinned part of me. Before that, all
my softer tissues had been leached from me
the way an art thief might replace a work
with something of his own. The rocks made good
my loss, but in the making made of me
a sterile monument to what had been.
I've heard my owner say I stimulate
his thoughts - not bad for plain and thought-less stone!


37 comments:

The Grandpa said...

Not bad at all. Nicely done, Dave.

Derrick said...

Hi Dave,

You take the most unlikely of subjects and turn it into a thing as wondrous and complicated as the object itself.

JennyMac said...

"more shell-like then my shell was then..."

Beautiful!

ScarletTd1ar1es said...

wow. u seriously see and understand things better than most people do. its actually inspiring. :)

ScarletTd1ar1es said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Helen said...

How can one poem be so sad ~ and so uplifting at the same time? You are such a talented writer ........

The Weaver of Grass said...

There is something sad about the poem Dave, as Helen says, but I can't put my finger on what it is. As a poem I like it very much - there is always such magic in items which have lain for so many years untouched by human hand and then suddenly are held again.
Your post is always food for a lot of thought - thank you for that.

The Green Stone Woman said...

Very beautiful, Dave. It reads well and it surprises me that you can say so much about a stone fossil that someone else would carelessly toss away. It has a good cadenza, I don't really know the proper word in English. It flowed like a small river of words. Easily yet not simple.

Angie said...

Great poem. I really enjoyed that.

Karen said...

I love the point of view and the title that says it all -- lamenting long-lost power and majesty; even more, I like the comparison at the end, which causes me to reread the whole, looking for the likenesses to the poet/owner. I'm seeing the lament of losing many things.

Karen said...

I meant to say: this is powerful, intricate, and masterfully wrought.

jinksy said...

Plain and thought-less you will never be, that's for sure...

Carl said...

Reflections of a life spent safely? in a shell. Sad and powerful.

What will I say when I look back on my time on earth. May I be so eloquent as this "lowly" creature.

Wonderful work!
Carl

Lori ann said...

A gift from the Sea, indeed. Wonderfully written, I enjoyed this very much!

Thank you Dave,

lori

lakeviewer said...

There is a sadness here, when one's original purpose is gone, when life is transformed into an empty shell.
The end result doesn't satisfy, even though it stimulates thoughts in others, possible comfort in the memory of that life.

Dave King said...

The Grandpa
Thanks for the support. Very grateful.

Derrick
Maybe because the object is so suggestive. Thanks.

JennyMac
Thanks for the comment.

ScarletTd1ar1es
It is very pleasing to hear that you find it inspiring, but the me understanding bit I am no so sure about. Thanks though.

Helen
It's all done by smoke and mirrors I suppose... actually, the contrast as it appears in the poem only struck me after I had written it. It wasn't something I consciously reached for.

The Weaver of Grass
I so agree with you about the magic inherent in these untouched items that take us back so far in time. There are so many angles, just waiting there to be taken.

The Green Stone Woman
I do find it difficult to ocnceive of someone just throwing a fossil (any fossil) away, but I suppose there are such folk. If I have understood you well enough, I think cadenza will do fine. Thanks for that.

Angie
Appreciate the compliment.

Karen
I did have the most trouble with the title (not unusual, for me), so thanks for that. The penultimate line I was considering redrafting as:
I've overheard you say... this would simplify the story, I think, in that the present owner would become the one to whom the poem is addressed, the one who popped the fossil from the rock in the opening verse. What do you think? Thanks for your two comments.

Jinksy
Thanks for that. Much appreciated!

Carl
That is a very salutary thought for all of us. You're into powerful stuff there. Thanks.

Lori ann
Indeed, and one could spin a verse or two on that theme. Much thanks.

lakeviewer
Youa are absolutely right. A very early memory I have is of picking up a conch shell on the beach and taking it home with the vague thought of doing something with it, but I couldn't. It wouldn't make an ashtray or any of the other things I thought of. I was so sad to think that something so beautiful could be so useless.

Karen said...

Dave -The point of view is unusual -- generally, the poet/speaker addresses the object rather than the other way round.

The choices here are to keep what you have, which is fine, I believe, or you could use "you" -- "I've heard you say..." which brings the poem to a personal level it has not heretofore obtained, or you could say, "I've heard it said that I stimulate thought...", which takes it from the personal to the realm of imagination.

Whichever you choose, I like the contrast of the fossil's final comment - "not bad for plain and thought-less stone", which of course, he is anything but.

I just had another thought: what if the "stimulate" were "simulate"? Now that changes everything.

Karen said...

Back to add - I'm not suggesting you change a thing; just responding to your inquiry.

Mariana Soffer said...

Nice text, I can see you are playing wiith the theory mainly pumped by darwin, evolution.
In the poem you are twisting not only what and how evolution is , but also things actions times, and so on. If you match your text with an ontology it will not end up being valid.

Jeanne said...

I love this one, Dave -- it may be your best yet. There are word pairings that catch my ear -- "fusty study," "flecks of plankton floating on a shallow sea," "less tender to decay," and images that lift the corners of my mouth, "the way iron enters a man's soul," "even stones may dream."

Thank you!

SugarCain said...

This is beautiful, Dave. The rhythm pulls me through the poem like magic. You are the master of line breaks.

Ronda Laveen said...

I enjoy all of the physiology and biology info that is woven so gracefully by your words. Makes learning plesant.

Dave King said...

Karen
Thanks for all that, I understand well enough that you are just responding to my query. I posed it simply because your remarks seemed to cut across a thought Iof my own. But as to the proposed change introducing a personal level that was not ther ebefore, it was suggested in the first three lines:
Out of my oyster world when you took blade
to pop the sepulchre apart that held
and had held me

Thanks again: very helpful.

Mariana
Thanks Mariana. I think I have understood all that, though I didn't set out to play with evolution. Thanks for the response. Always helpful

Jeanne
Much obliged. I was kind of pleased with it, but slightly unsure, so all comments help.

SugarCain
My thanks for those kind words.

Ronda
Thanks a lot, Ronda. Much obliged.

A Cuban In London said...

A poem to age? To one's essence? To the durability of things? To all of the above and none at all?

I cannot write how much I liked this latest offering because I would be boring you and embarrassing myself in the process. But this line played a blinder on me: 'Now I, who have been flesh and blood like you,
am stone, more shell-like than my shell was then,
no longer buoyant - hence the hollow ring.'

It reminds me of the passing of time, of flesh wrinkling up and losing its firmness, what will happen to us all in the end. But then you pick up the mood again at the very end: 'I've heard my owner say I stimulate
his thoughts - not bad for plain and thought-less stone!'

That's a hell of a finish. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Dave King said...

A Cuban in London
Umm... I could take a lot of that without getting bored, I assure you!
Seriously though, thanks and more thanks for that. I guess I had become a little nostalgic (shall I say?) over the passage of time and so maybe a little of that did come out in the lines. Grateful though, for such a ringing endorsement.

Helen Ginger said...

Really liked this. A powerful viewpoint that kept me reading.

Helen
Straight From Hel

Dave King said...

Helen
Many thanks.

readingsully2 said...

Here is a big grin. :)

Dave King said...

readingsully2
Ambiguous - but I'll take it as well-meant, so thanks!

Aniket said...

My thoughts resonate with Helen's... How can one poem be so sad and so uplifting at the same time?

I liked how you ended it with a hopeful note. It feels he is accepting the changes and reality but the spirit is not dead yet. I believe, in the end, that all that counts.

This was a wonderful peice. One of my favorites at your place. (And there have been many :))

Friko said...

that's brilliant.
Another one that bears reading and re-reading; each time there is more to see, to explore, to understand,

Having been fossil hunting myself, all I ever enquire into is the scientific origin, geology, and such. Fossils and poetry don't go together, at first thought, but then you come along and make them.

Escapist said...

Hiya !

Oyster shells....good one


jooollliiieesss:-)

Dick said...

I have a rather fine ammonite and I've often held it in my palm and wondered about its provenance and rejoiced in its fine detail from such an unimaginably long time ago. The poem fits it beautifully, Dave.

Adrian LaRoque said...

Great Dave, you have a talent, that is for sure!

Tara said...

What inspiration from such a tiny thing that really freaks me out. :]

Dave King said...

Aniket
Many thanks for those remarks. I do agree with you about what matters in the end.

Friko
Thanks for that. I did a little fossil hunting in my youth, and I too was only interested in the aspects you mention. Shells were closer to poetry for me then.

Escapist
But a pearl of a one? Welcome to the blog.

Dick
Thanks for that Dick. I rather envy you your ammonite, though. I do think all such are imbued with much poetry and romance.

Adrian
Thanks. Much obliged.

Tara
I think it's the ammonite that fraks me out.

Rose Marie Raccioppi said...

"but if I should,
did you not know that even stones may dream -
particularly one that once had life?"

Stones, shells, flower petals, a magical array present to the young at heart. All with its "isness." What was, is yet, be it evolved or transformed. And so this day...

Wavering vibrations of joy sent your way
For the pulsing creation within this day
Maddening joy and frivolity
Defines an emergent new reality
Beyond all doubt and pain
Beyond all the perceived inane
The Glory of spirit and soul
To light love and each noble goal.

In the shell lives yet the sea
In the petal lives yet the bloom
In the stone lives yet the awakening...

In appreciation,

APOGEE Poet